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Curious Thirsty Learner, 10 minutes with Elizabeth Valentine

‘My mantra in business has always been, work with dignity’. This was just one of many “killer” opening lines, New Zealand based Technology consultant, Dr Elizabeth Valentine CIO at Massey University, shared with me as we discussed, among other things, the value of engaging with your audience and the importance of nailing that all-important opening line.

Being able to create that impactful and insightful opening line in any presentation is what draws in your audience to feel inspired and engaged. Elizabeth has delivered that killer line on more than one occasion.

She has over 20 years’ experience in leadership roles and is a renowned international keynote speaker, delivering thought provoking keynotes and lectures on technology and governance. Elizabeth, an experienced and successful digital transformation specialist, spent 45 minutes with me (via Skype and a time zone or two) to discuss technology, ethics, diversity and leadership in the workplace.

If it ticks at the top, it ticks at the bottom

Claire Roper: Having a healthy mind, body and soul no doubt has a positive effect on productivity, statistics show 91% of workers at companies which support wellbeing efforts say they feel motivated to do their best. Do you think wellbeing in the workplace should be at a business or government level?

Elizabeth Valentine: It’s both. It’s as well as, not instead of. At a business level it's important to put all your support systems in place. But personally, as a leader I ensure I have a healthy lifestyle and put an emphasis on healthy eating and work-life balance. I’ve had a personal yoga and meditation practice, pretty much daily, for nearly 30 years. I figure if it ticks at the top it ticks at the bottom. Being healthy, having good practices for reducing stress and leading by example play out into the workplace.

My personal preference is to encourage mindfulness and discourage a drinking culture within the workplace, because as you rightly say, a healthy mind, body and soul tends to support productive relationships and business outcomes.

At a Government level, legislation needs to play a part alongside businesses in creating an environment of wellbeing. There has recently been legislation changes in New Zealand, where everyone from the Board of Directors down are now accountable for health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace.

Diversity isn’t just about male and female

CR: Studies from McKinsey report, ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform, and Gender Diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform. It’s clear to see Diversity is important to businesses, but putting the monetary issues aside, what does the human element of diversity mean to you?

EV: We have to understand Diversity isn’t just about male and female, it's bigger than that. I’ve always been a fanatic about capability and very keen to get the right person for the right job. This means I have always aimed for a very diverse workforce. This includes people with disabilities, different languages, sexualities, cultures and backgrounds.

As long as the individual has the capability for the role, that’s all that matters. Alongside this though, it’s important to lead a zero tolerance for bullying including sexism, ageism, racism etc, and to have performance measures for executives and managers that focus on the type of organisation culture you’re after.

Matching the demography with the community

When I first studied diversity and organisational development in the early 1990’s, I was involved in implementing changes in the banking system and proposed the need to concentrate on diversity in front line teams. In the 90s, few organisations had considered matching the demographic diversity of a customer community with a complementary diversity across front-line staff. Put simply, it made sense to apply demographic matching as a deliberate approach to not only improve frontline diversity, but to building competitive advantage through people in retail banking.

Diversity needs to filter into how businesses provide front line services to local communities, which means diversity actually becomes a relevant interaction with your community, as well as your employees.

Unconscious bias can play a major part in recruitment and therefore diversity

As an older woman, it’s easy to be marginalised. For some, it can be difficult to secure work. This is why I recommend being proactive and creating your own opportunities. I have colleagues and connections in my network of a certain age who have struggled to find work and have given up trying. The sad thing is they are experienced, intelligent people who could add enormous value. The assumption seems to be that older workers are expensive to recruit. My experience suggests we ignore the ‘longevity revolution’ at our peril.

Including older workers in our diversity profiling will become more important as retirement ages are increased.

As a strategy, ‘Blind Recruitment’ (the practice of removing names and gender from the resumes) in initial reviewing of talent plays a big part in removing any unconscious bias we unintentionally have. To counteract this unconscious bias in business, it's important to continue to develop your knowledge, and ensure your personal brand is up to-date. I regularly publish papers and create thought leadership. I never used my gender inappropriately to win business and have never compromised who I am to win my goals in business.

We need to support working parents through the entirety of their journey

CR: I recently read a statistic by which reported the proportion of working mothers had increased 800% since 1860. What can businesses leaders do within their own organisations do to encourage and accommodate working parents.

EV: As business leaders we need to support working parents – men and women - through the entirety of their journey. If that means having flexible and agile working spaces, providing homework rooms and the ability to bring the children into the office, then that’s what we need to do. The big corporations have already started this practice with childcare facilities in their premises. Germany is a great example of supporting working parents, by offering more than just working from home options, and supporting parents with a range of facilities and benefits.

  • 24 months of paid parental leave or, 28 months shared paid parental leave.

  • Over 80% of all children between three and six years attend a kindergarten in Germany. The state supporting parents with monetary incentives.

  • Daycare (Kindertagesbetreuung) is very affordable, nurseries typically charging EUR 70–150 per child per month.